New Lawsuit Details More Allegations of Sex Abuse in Illinois Youth Centers Over 2 Decades

The office building at 100 North Western Avenue in Chicago, on Monday, May 6, 2024, where an office of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is located. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)The office building at 100 North Western Avenue in Chicago, on Monday, May 6, 2024, where an office of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is located. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)

Several more former detainees are claiming they were subjected to sexual abuse and misconduct by correctional officers and staff inside Illinois Youth Centers (IYCs), sharing similar allegations to those included in a lawsuit filed against the state last month.

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Attorneys representing 95 men and 13 women filed two new lawsuits Friday against the state of Illinois, along with the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice, alleging those agencies “allowed a culture of abuse at IYC’s to flourish unabated.”

“This is abuse that occurred at the hands of those who were hired to protect and educate the residents of these facilities,” said Todd Mathews, an attorney with Bailey Glasser LLP, which helped file the new lawsuits. “Instead, they created a horrific environment and performed unspeakable acts on these survivors.”

According to attorneys for the plaintiffs, the alleged abuse occurred from 1997 to 2019 and involved victims ranging in age from 10-17 years old. The lawsuit claims this abuse took place at eight youth centers across Illinois, located in: St. Charles, Harrisburg, Chicago, Joliet, Kewanee, Warrenville, Murphysboro and Valley View.

One of the plaintiffs, a Chicagoan who went only by the name “Michael,” said he was sent to IYC-Murphysboro where a staff member sexually abused him. He said Monday he tried to tell others at the facility what was happening, but “nobody would listen.”

“It fell on deaf ears,” he said during a press conference Monday. “It gave me the message that nobody cared about me. That I was less than human.”

One victim, who was housed at IYC-Warrenville in the late 1990s when she was 14, alleged she was sexually abused both by a correctional officer and a delivery driver at the facility. According to the lawsuit, the officer offered her snacks and additional time outside of her cell if she would remain topless throughout his shift and allow him to grope her breasts.

The delivery driver allegedly offered her cigarettes in exchange for her exposing herself to him.

Another girl who had multiple stays at IYC-Warrenville — beginning around 2014 when she was 13 — alleged five separate correctional officers sexually abused her.

The complaint states she was allowed to clean around the facility to earn extra time away from her cell and during this time, the officers would allegedly sexually abuse her. This occurred two-to-three times a week during her various stays, the lawsuit claims, adding that the officers would give her cigarettes, marijuana and extra snacks as a “reward for enduring the abuse.”

The girl claimed she threatened to report the abuse sometime between 2015 or 2016, but when she did so, one of the correctional officers ordered her to be confined to her housing unit for an extended period of time.

“Upon information and belief, the State of Illinois is aware (and has for decades been aware) that the conditions identified above as connected to sexual abuse and conditions of juvenile detention facilities were and are endemic to all IYC facilities,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit.

The allegations are similar to those made in a lawsuit filed by the same attorneys last month on behalf of nearly 100 others who claimed they too were sexually abused or assaulted by employees within the youth centers.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice said they are aware of the lawsuits but is unable to comment on active litigation.

“IDJJ takes seriously the safety of youth in the care of the Department,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “All allegations of staff misconduct are immediately and thoroughly investigated internally and often in partnership with the Department of Corrections, the Illinois State Police and the Department of Children and Family Services.”

The department has said it has “enacted policies and protocols to ensure the safety of youth and staff” and identify any possible instances of abuse or misconduct. Those protocols comply with state and federal safety standards, the department said, adding that all staff working in its facilities undergo background checks and training.

“It is time for Illinois to accept responsibility for this systematic abuse of children in Illinois Youth Centers,” Jerome Block, an attorney with Levy Konigsberg LLP who works with the plaintiffs, said Monday.

The former detainees’ attorneys also filed an action in Pennsylvania in May alleging 66 people who are now adults were victimized by guards, nurses and supervisors in that state's juvenile detention system. The Illinois and Pennsylvania lawsuits follow other actions in Maryland, Michigan and New York City.

Some cases have gone to trial or resulted in settlements but arrests have been infrequent.

In New Hampshire, more than 1,100 former residents of the state’s youth detention center have filed lawsuits since 2020 alleging physical or sexual abuse spanning six decades. The first lawsuit went to trial last month, and a jury awarded the plaintiff $38 million, though the amount remains disputed. Eleven former state workers have been arrested, and more than 100 more are named in the lawsuits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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